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A German Sparpreis-ticket is (for long-distance trains) only valid on the trains indicated on the ticket, but a seat reservation is optional. In case of overcrowding, a Sparpreis ticket holder can be denied boarding to the indicated train. What rights to alternate transportation or restitution does the traveller have in this case, assuming domestic travel?

Based on common sense and consumer protection, I would expect that if Deutsche Bahn cannot deliver what the traveller paid for, then either the ticket should be valid on a later train or should be reimbursed. Therefore, I find the accepted answer on community.bahn.de (which states the opposite)¹ hard to believe.

What are my rights if I am (to no fault of my own) denied boarding to the train indicated on my ticket?


¹ Relevant part from linked page:

Nein die Zugbindung ist nicht aufgehoben und daher muss ich der Aussage von Euklid93 widersprechen. Nutzen Sie einen anderen Zug so zahlen Sie einen komplett neuen Fahrschein.

My translation:

No, the train linking is not lifted and therefore I must contradict the statement by Euklid93. If you use another train then you will pay a complete new ticket.

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    Were you denied onboarding, or you were simply unable to physically get into the train? – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Apr 8 at 9:39
  • @Rg7xgW6acQ3g So far, in Germany, neither, I am asking this question in case it happens in the future. (I did get denied boarding once in the UK and was tolerated on a later train) – gerrit Apr 8 at 9:40
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    As far I know, it is veryvery seldom to have such case: "Sparticket" are issued for train which should never be crowed: if there is a lot of demand, it is better to sell ticket for the normal price – Giacomo Catenazzi Apr 8 at 10:15
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi I'm not convinced that's the case. Look far enough in advance and I can see super sparpreis tickets available for Hamburg-Berlin in the middle of the morning rush. That's not a train that "should never be crowded". Some (i.e. the less popular ones) save you more than others, but looking 2-3 months ahead there seem to be sparpreis tickets available for every single train. – Chris H Apr 8 at 10:58
  • @ChrisH: Ah ok, nice to know. I never planed train travel in Germany for so "far" in future. – Giacomo Catenazzi Apr 8 at 12:58
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The chances of you being "denied boarding" are very low. There is no pre boarding check, nobody is standing at the door counting passengers. So there is nobody to deny you boarding.

What is possible is that the train is physically so full that the train cannot leave, and when it does happen it usually escalates to the point where a train will be significantly delayed. And as soon as the delay is significant enough that you can expect to be more than 20 minutes the "zugbindung" (train binding) is cancelled.

I have been on a train that was so full it wouldn't leave, and the conductor started asking people that were standing to leave the train. We ended up with a delay of one hour, and I wished DB would introduce compulsory reservation for its long distance trains.

I always reserve seats. However to someone without a reservation I would suggest you make the removal of the "zugbindung" a condition of volunteering to leave. All the conductor needs to do is write it on the back of the ticket.

Regarding the answers on the Bahn Community forum: https://community.bahn.de/questions/1528379-aussergewohnlich-hohes-reisendenaufkommen-mitfahrt-garantiert

In this case the person who is asking the question has not been refused access. He or she however fears they will have to leave the train and asks if they can assume that the "zugbindung" has in such cases already been lifted a priori, or if they can change the ticket. The DB answer is that this is not the case, and that they still will have to present themselves to the train they booked.

There are related questions on the forum, and one is here: https://community.bahn.de/questions/1487525-zug-ausgebucht-trotz-sparpreis-andere-verbindung-wahlen There the answer (also accepted by DB) is that if you cannot use the train you wanted to take that of course you can take another.

DB has no choice here. If they sell you a ticket they have to transport you. If they can't transport you with the train you ought to take they have to offer you a different one. And you may even be able to claim compensation for the delay...

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    "to someone without a reservation I would suggest you make the removal of the "zugbindung" a condition of volunteering to leave". Can you explain what a zugbindung is? Is that what binds the ticket to a specific train, and by having the conductor write something on the back of the ticket, it allows the passenger to use the ticket on a later train? – RToyo Apr 8 at 13:18
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    yes, those "sparpreis tickets" got written which train(s) they are booked upon. Conductor can note on the ticket that the train was overfilled so they conductor of following train knows that something was up. (iirc it works similar incase of the "long delay" case – masterX244 Apr 8 at 13:27
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    @masterX244 for the long delay, it just happens automatically. You don't need to get it written down, especially since you now often have digital tickets. The conductor will scan your ticket, see it belongs to a different train, and it will show the status of that train right with it, so they know it's late and you are fine on their train. – simbabque Apr 8 at 14:34
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    @simbabque: If possible, I'd still recommend to get a confirmation in writing, if only to make things clearer for the next train employee to handle the case. For instance, not long ago, I was on a train whose regular schedule had been changed (in such a way that it would arrive about 30 minutes later) after I had bought my online tickets. It took quite some discussing at the train's destination station to make the train employee compare the currently scheduled time of arrival to that printed on my ticket, as they would at first just see that the train was not delayed and assumed we had ... – O. R. Mapper Apr 9 at 22:59
  • ... been hanging around for the past 30 minutes and thus missed our connecting train due to our own fault. – O. R. Mapper Apr 9 at 22:59
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The accepted answer that you linked to is concerned with a different case, namely that the train is marked as "please take a different train" in the on-line schedule. In this case, the "Zugbindung" (ticket is valid only for a specific train) is not automatically cancelled and you have to take the train if you don't want your ticket to become void.

If a train is actually to full to leave the train station, the situation is different - the train conductor and/or the federal police (if asked to assist by the train conductors) will ask passengers to leave the train. In this case, you are entitled to continue your journey on a different train. If the overall delay with the next available train is at least 60 minutes, you will also get a part of your ticket price back later (if you apply for this).

In this case, you options are:

  1. Just hop on the next available train, telling the ticket conductor that you had to take the next one as due to overcrowding, passengers without a reservation were thrown out of the previous train. They are likely to be unable to verify this, so the better option is option 2:
  2. Go to the information booth and get a stamp that the train was overcrowded. This cancels the "Zugbindung" and you can take the next train.

There have been reports of cases in which the overcrowdedness of the train was not properly recorded in the database of DB, which led them to refuse your right to take a different train. The correct and tedious way of dealing with this is to contact "DB Kundendialog" after the journey (and most likely having to buy a new ticket to continue your journey).

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In general, this is driven by the practicalities of rail travel.

First let's exclude cases where the passenger has missed the train.

When the carrier imposes a restriction that the transport will only work on a certain run (like nearly all airline tickets), and the carrier refuses to provide transport on that run... then the carrier is obliged to provide reasonable alternative transporation.

Airlines are obviously good at this, because they are also formal. They formally reticket you (because load management is critical, no standees in air). And you need a document so you can exit and re-enter security.

With railway, well, they are also pretty good at this, but they tend to do it much more informally.

At minimum, they may simply tell you to use that ticket on the next available train. What happens then? Most likely the conductor has already dealt with 10 other parties with the exact same story, so that proves it's true. Or if you're the first, it's possible you are lying and were late due to your own fault, but the conductor knows company policy is to let you ride the next train with available (about-to-be-wasted) space, and here you are. It's a distinction without a difference, and certainly not worth making a huge scene.

Also, this is not his first rodeo: he knows the 1:00 train often overbooks so your story is plausible to him. He may even be aware of an equipment problem (car removed from the train; car present but with inoperative A/C) that caused the overbook.


* For Amtrak/Via long-haul, this tends to be a huge production because of the need to book hotel if taking next train, or airline tickets if your travel is time-sensitive or if your multi-day train can be overtaken. Fortunately this mainly happens at hubs: NYP, WAS, CHI, LAX, Toronto which have enough staff to handle a mob.

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    "the conductor knows company policy is to let you ride the next train with available (about-to-be-wasted) space" - do you have any proof this is a part of DB company policy? I have yet to see a transportation company in Germany that will not happily refuse transport to people without valid tickets even if the train or bus is almost empty. – O. R. Mapper Apr 9 at 23:03

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